Should Internet Speech Be Restricted Essay

For several weeks, the Islamic world has expressed outrage over an American-made film which denigrates the prophet Muhammad. The film’s director, who has a reputation for hating Muslims, inaccurately portrayed Muhammad as “a fraud, a womanizer, and a child molester,” (Santana) and posted the film on YouTube. After the film was dubbed in Arabic and viewed by millions, widespread violence occurred throughout the Middle East and resulted in the deaths of the American Ambassador to Libya, three other Americans who worked at the United States Consulate in Bengazi, and over fifty other individuals.The violence also stirred debate in America over whether Internet speech should be restricted, given that one cannot control into whose hands it might fall or for what political purposes it might be used.

The Internet is a highly effective tool for individuals to spread their ideas to millions of people; even ideas which are hateful and false. In the United States, ideas, even those which are hurtful or purposefully inaccurate, are not censored, and this policy should be continued.Censoring speech on the Internet would be contrary to the fundamental principle of freedom of expression which is at the foundation of American democracy.

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The concept of freedom of expression is deeply rooted in the country’s legal traditions. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution governs free speech and provides that “Congress shall make no law . .

. abridging the freedom of speech. ” On numerous occasions, the Supreme Court has addressed whether the government has the right to control speech. Although t has ruled that some speech, such as child pornography and fraudulent advertising, is not protected, the right to free speech and expression is not usually limited.

In cases where the Supreme Court has limited free speech, the government was concerned with immediate public safety; the government seeks to protect children from sexual predators and the public from conmen. However, restrictions were not placed on speech, because the content of the statements might be offensive or may provoke strong feelings or reactions.Indeed, it would be difficult to determine what speech is offensive and who should make the determination. “[O]ne person’s smear is another person’s frank and honest description of the facts as they see them.

. . . Who is going to adjudicate those things . . .

” (Palca)? If the government begins to edit content based on the sensitivity of the listener, the views of the minority in political discussions could be censored, because they are offensive to the majority.Clearly, this censorship would go against the fundamental principles of the First Amendment which prefers the expression of offensive viewpoints over governmental regulation of speech. Although the Internet is able to reach more people than other means of transmitting information, this is not a sufficient justification for treating it differently. Indeed, censoring information on the Internet violates freedom of speech as much as censoring information in a newspaper.

In the United States, the overwhelming belief is that by permitting all viewpoints to be heard and debated in an open forum, the truth will ultimately emerge. It is a disservice to both students and adults engaging in reading and research to deprive them of access to the uncensored Internet, which is the most powerful and democratic forum for speech ever invented. As the Supreme Court once proclaimed, ‘it is no exaggeration to conclude that the content on the Internet is as diverse as human thought’” (Crump). The United States cannot alter its fundamental beliefs, in order to accommodate other countries whose institutions do not welcome the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints.The nuances of the law concerning the First Amendment are lost on the citizens of these countries, and perhaps it is better to explain our fundamental principles than to abandon them in the face of outside threats.

Naturally, this will not be an easy task. “How to explain the U. S. embrace of free expression to an Islamic world that increasingly sees only double standards” (Achakzai)? The regulation of information on the Internet would be a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech and expression.

Accordingly, even hateful speech posted on the Internet is constitutionally protected speech and should not be censored. The United States needs to educate foreign countries that the laws protecting freedom of expression are not to protect feelings but to protect the free exchange of ideas. “’The truth is that as amateurish movie production is, it still falls in the category of freedom of speech,’ al-Khateeb [Kuwait University professor ] said. ‘If you say that to people here . .

. [t]hey still don’t understand that they don’t have to accept it. They can oppose it, but in a civil manner that is more constructive” (Achakzai).

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